Jed Hoyer Hints at Aggressive Spending as Cubs Look to Take Another Step, Less Bullish on Cody Bellinger Return

Jed Hoyer addressed the media Tuesday afternoon for his annual postmortem press conference, during which he quite predictably said a whole lot without saying very much. Rather than break down the whole thing, which would be needlessly tedious, I’m going to offer a few thoughts on a number of various topics so you can pick and choose what to read if you don’t feel like going through all of them.

Keep in mind that these are largely my interpretations of Hoyer’s answer to questions being asked by media members. Your mileage may vary if you watched the presser live or go back to do so later.

The Cubs’ season as a whole

“You can’t define something as a success when you fall short,” Hoyer admitted.

When asked whether playing more day games at Wrigley had anything to do with a late-season collapse similar to those we’ve seen in the past, Hoyer said there were several factors involved. What it came down to was that the team simply failed to execute in numerous areas. They were good at blowing teams out but had a losing record in one-run games, they got sloppy defensively, timely hitting wasn’t there, and the bullpen gassed out.

Again, a lot of this is me paraphrasing.

Hoyer owned the lack of bullpen depth and said the most common aspect of all their exit interviews so far has been players being accountable for what they could have done better individually. The clubhouse culture was a big thing he kept coming back to.

David Ross as manager

Based on what we heard from Tom Ricketts the other day, the manager’s job appears to be secure. Hoyer offered no indication otherwise and repeatedly praised Ross for his leadership and preparation, which is something fans don’t really get to see. This will be the skipper’s fifth year, however, and it does sound as though everyone involved knows it’s time to get better.

Taking next step

While the Cubs took a step forward this season in terms of establishing a veteran core and getting some young guys up, Hoyer said it’ll take a while to get to where they really want to be. He cited Atlanta as the model and cautioned that the Cubs can’t reach that level in just one offseason. That’s more about the very obvious reality of competitiveness than it is a sign that the Cubs are going to continue along a circuitous path, but there’s more to it than just spending.

One factor is being able to balance development with winning, something the Braves seem to do as well as any organization in baseball. They have built a roster of dynamic young players via development and trades, plus they’ve found ways to sign them to extensions. The Cubs have done sort of the baby version of that recently, but they’ve struggled when it comes to bringing prospects up and getting contributions.

Hoyer said there’s no way to be a great org if you’re not willing to give at-bats to young players. If you can’t afford them those opportunities, you’ll end up seeing them thrive in other cities. You know, like Nelson Velázquez in Kansas City (Hoyer didn’t drop a specific name, of course). That becomes difficult when you have a number of prospects pushing their way up, but it’s a good problem to have.

Pete Crow-Armstrong‘s failure was good, actually

This could become really important if the Cubs aren’t able to bring Bellinger back, which I’ll cover in a bit. Hoyer said he spoke to PCA after Sunday’s loss and told the young outfielder that struggling like he did might be the best thing for him in the long run. Facing big league pitching exposed flaws in his game that will need to be worked on in the offseason.

Hoyer equated it to seeing Anthony Rizzo hit .141 with the Padres, which forced him to address some shortcomings that following winter. After being traded to the Cubs, Rizzo was able to put those adjustments in place and become a fantastic player. Wait, does this mean the Cubs are going to trade PCA to a team that will eventually see him blossom into an All-Star?

Payroll and CBT

This is a topic the reporters openly acknowledged they wouldn’t get real answers to, which Hoyer confirmed, though I got the sense from the way he addressed it that ownership is open to exceeding the competitive balance tax. Hoyer specifically noted that the Cubs have been over in the past and that there’s no mandate against doing so again, which is not necessarily notable.

The part that struck me was when he talked about spending more aggressively last winter and how that generated momentum. Hoyer was then smiling broadly when he said the Cubs obviously want to maintain that momentum, which I took as being coy in the most positive way. Again, that’s me reading between the lines on body language.

Less bullish on Bellinger

While Hoyer was effusive in his praise of the way Cody Bellinger came in and immediately ingratiated himself to the organization and fans, it all sounded kind of like a fond look back at a summer fling. The Cubs will maintain an exclusive negotiating window with Bellinger until free agency officially opens and Hoyer talked about how playing in Chicago has already done a ton of the recruiting for him, but this didn’t sound quite the same as what we heard earlier in the season.

Maybe it’s just the reality of dealing with a player whose whole plan heading into the season was to rebuild his value, something Bellinger did as well as anyone on a pillow deal ever has. Given the likelihood of him fielding multiple huge offers, the courtship process could drag out for most of the offseason. The Cubs aren’t really in a position to wait things out, so it’s possible they’ll move on with their roster construction before Bellinger has made his choice.

How about bringing Hendricks back?

Ricketts hinted strongly at Kyle Hendricks being back and Hoyer echoed those sentiments, saying he wasn’t going to negotiate anything publicly. Just that phrasing makes it sound like something is in the works, however, since Hendricks has a $16.5 million club option for next year ($16M base plus $500K for his 9th place Cy Young finish in ’20). Hoyer said they’d like to keep Hendricks around for next year and beyond, which hints at restructuring the deal.

I was way off when I tried to guess at something similar for Drew Smyly last year, but I think Hendricks might be amenable to a deal that guarantees him two years at a lower AAV. Maybe $20-24 million with incentives? I don’t know, but it certainly sounds like there have been conversations about keeping The Professor with the team.

Morel’s spot moving forward

There’s a lot more to cover but this is the last topic I’ll address in the interest of time. Hoyer praised Christopher Morel‘s talent and said there should be an everyday position for him, but that’s the exact same thing we heard back in June. Third base is the obvious fit because there’s nowhere else for him to go, it’s just that Morel has never really played well there and the Cubs didn’t give him a shot even when they could have this season.

Can that improve? Of course, but I do wonder whether the Cubs would be more willing to move Morel as part of a big deal to acquire an established player. If not, I believe he could be a great DH after seeing how he adjusted to that role this year.

Whew, that’s all I’ve got for now, might write more if something else strikes me later.

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